Under the Los Angeles city charter, the mayor has no formal power over the
However, instead of using all of his political energy on the school district, Garcetti and the city would be further ahead by connecting schooling to out-of-school learning, making Los Angeles a more educational place to grow up. As David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development at the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, told me in an interview, "The mayor is perfectly positioned to connect the schoolhouse to the community and link what students know to high-paying jobs."
In July, Garcetti signaled that he is looking at education beyond school walls when he announced a 5,000 student summer jobs program, which can be linked to explicit educational efforts. And over the last two years, the nonprofit Families in Schools has issued "Passports to Success," inviting students and their families to engage in summer reading and visiting the city's museums. As students visit more than 30 institutions throughout the city, they get their "passports" stamped. And by signing up for the program, they can get free books.
This summer the passport program distributed 40,000 summer learning kits to 67 L.A. Unified preschools and elementary schools. Los Angeles has scores of educational organizations, including the Music Center, the
A fine example of how to do this is Chicago's Summer of Learning program. More than 100 organizations provided programs, 210,000 students participated and by early August, 100,000 "badges" of achievement had been earned by the city's youth. Mayor
Emanuel also provided meeting space, two full-time staff members and several interns. He appeared personally at planning meetings and kickoff events, and helped the nonprofits fundraise. His participation is credited with getting the parks department and library on board. MacArthur and the Mozilla foundations together invested more than $500,000 to train organizations to adapt traditional summer programs into activities that had specific learning objectives.
Here's how the program works. A student goes online (chicagosummeroflearning.org) and explores a menu of largely tuition-free opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Completing a project leads to a digital badge and the opportunity to move toward more challenging activities.
For example, at the
Earning badges is as traditional as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts and as revolutionary as a digital transcript. The system was developed by the
The badge system also helps equalize education. Upper-income parents heavily support their children's learning through camps, trips and cultural visits. Studies have shown that they spend nearly $7 in education enrichment for every $1 spent by low-income families. Badges offer opportunity for everyone.
A program like Summer of Learning is ideally suited to our sprawling city, and it can operate year-round. The network design can incorporate providers from all over the city. And it can happen with the mayor's personal leadership rather than a huge public appropriation or bureaucracy. It would be a natural first step in making the city a smarter place to grow up.